Friday came with an undertow of a calm anxiety, if one could put it like that. The boys still needed to have their breakfast and change and play and get walked down to school. My oldest threw snowballs at me the entire time making our way down to their classes, while the little one laughed. We raced the neighbours across the street to see who would get to the school grounds first. As we walked, glided and jogged, I thought of not trying to think. Serenity Prayers popped like stick gum. Breathing – God in, fear out. Visualization techniques. Listening to the crunch and squeak of snow underneath each foot as I tread carefully around icy patches.
It was the last day of a trial that has lasted just slightly longer than my own sober time. A trial that really, in the grand scheme of things, is typical fodder for the lawyers and the court system and workers. Another day. Another dollar. Another goof who did something really stupid and is paying for it. More paper to push. When’s cocktail hour? Oh that dreaded cocktail hour that lasted years for this alcoholic. I knew that Friday was going to be the last day, barring a calamity of sorts. All the arguments had been exhausted. Both sides weary. Ruling already handed down: Guilty. Just needed to clean up the mess for good.
“Wow, you’re in a good mood,” she said.
I entered the car of our friend that was driving my wife and I down to the court. I texted her Thursday and told her not to worry about coming. It was going to be quick, and it wasn’t worth her long drive from the ‘burbs. She insisted, being the wonderful person that she is. M is my wife’s friend. Both met and worked in a bar long time ago. How fitting for this young-ish man to be carousing and flirting and with my then-not-yet-my-girlfriend-and-later-to-be-wife at a bar. Little did she know then that she would be accompanying her alkie husband to court to find out what the system would mete out to him for his ugly transgression.
“Did you get rest?” M asked.
“Not getting rest wouldn’t change anything that happens today,” I replied.
I was surprised that she picked up on my mood and called it “good”. I certainly wasn’t feeling exactly chipper, but I wasn’t morose either. My mental state was filed under “It is what it is”. And that’s a good place for my mind to be. Doesn’t allow for free falling or grandiose schemes. Because left to my own devices, I will create scenarios that would make George Orwell or Nick Cave look like optimists. I will envision the utter pit of despair, or conceive flights of fancy and fantasy that are equally as unrealistic. And I had already done that a few weeks ago. The ink ran out on those sketches. So the best I could do was just being in the moment. Not let the dog off the leash, so to speak.
We drove and talked about traffic, Little House on the Prairie and parenthood.
Here’s the thing about alcoholism – it takes you down twists and turns you never thought possible. I could always turn to someone else and say “See? I am not as bad as him. I still have control over things.” And then move on. Justify. Rationalize. Think away the drink while I poison my mind, body and soul with pollutant in a bottle. I was never as bad as that guy on television shot-gunning Lysol. Now that’s bad. But it’s amazing how far down the scale we can go. Or down the elevator, as the common analogy states.
I thought of this as we walked past the people on their way to work, half-eaten bagels getting cold in the Northern wind, cellphones gripped, coffees steaming up the side walks. If they knew my story, if they knew me, would they point at me like I did at the Lysol dude? Would those men and women already thinking of after work drinks, or for those who have a little nip of something in those coffees at 9:45 am point at me and say “See? I am not as bad as him. I still have control over things”?
This whole deal wasn’t about my alcoholism, per se. But of the consequences of the drinking. And that’s two different things. I certainly was alcoholic before the consequences started to pile up. I certainly was alcoholic before I could admit it to myself. I certainly was alcoholic then, as I am now. But what was going on Friday, and the countless days before that, wasn’t an indictment on me, or my alcoholism. It was of the actions that my alcoholism brought me to, to my selfish ways, to being the loyal and corrupt slave / subject of King Alcohol.
Subject, verb, noun…sentence.
My lawyer once warned me that there is always a chance of getting bed bugs at the court. I mean, posh New York City hotels and opera houses have them, so why not a down town metropolis court house? Located in a nondescript building above a coffee shop and a Winner’s, the courthouse sees all sorts. By this time, I have been able to discern between the suits – who are the cops, who are the lawyers, and then guys like me in ill-fitting, off-the-rack cheapies. I was once asked if I was a lawyer, but for the most part, I am just another contestant in the wheel of fortune.
Sitting on the benches, we waited for my lawyer’s representative, as my lawyer would not attend. My parents, my wife, M, and my sponsor J were there. I brought J “Sermon on the Mount” by Emmet Fox. It was a book I knew he would like, being where he is on his own spiritual journey. The representative showed up and we marched into the body of the court. If there is anything I can say about the court system, amidst the general tedium and long delays, is that it starts right on time. Bearing witness to many other legal and judicial proceedings in my time there, they move at a quick hustle. In and out. Yes or no. Guilt or not guilty. Next. Round robin material and speed.
The place was busier than normal. People were brought up before the judge, hustled to other court rooms, arrangements made for new dates, and petitions pitched. One man pleaded guilty to credit card identity theft. The court took an early recess, as they needed to find the old prosecutor. I spoke to J in the meantime, and told him that I was ready to move on and not have this over my head any more. He told me that he had that cloud over his head for ten or eleven years – whenever he got out of one jackpot, he would get pinched for something else. I told him that if I got jail time, that my lawyer would ask for house arrest. He told me his experience with that as well. Then we talked about the book for a few minutes.
The judge returned and I sat down.
The judge did what judges do in these rulings – read out all the facts, what the prosecutor brought to the table, and the defence’s arguments. I am still not totally used to hearing the objective, hard-nosed facts of that day. The amount drank. The picking up of my son at day care. The readings when I was caught and asked to blow. The 911 calls about my driving. It’s never easy to have it all put on public record. Then again, I made it public record years ago when I did what I did. This wasn’t one of those lazy, pathetic drunks in my basement. Well, let me correct that. All of my drunks were pathetic.
I could also hear the sniffling behind me. If it is hard for me to hear at times, it’s devastating for my own family and friends to hear it. It is never easy. Never will be. My wife was doing her best not to cry. She was dressed up for a business meeting later on at a certain building. The funny thing is this: the day I was arrested, she had business in that same building (she does not work at the building). The last time I had court, she had a meeting at that same building. And same thing Friday. It seems that my offence and court seemed to be intrinsically or cosmically linked to that building. Not sure why. Odd.
My lawyer’s rep leaned over to me at one point and said “Keep a poker face, no matter what”. Well, that was part of the plan. I couldn’t see myself dropping down like I got hit by a sniper and gnashing away, nor could I see myself jumping on the desk and doing a jig. It was going to be poker face, regardless. This wasn’t the place for the emotionally displaced. There was no currying favour either way. And as the judge kept reading, she continued to look at me. I heard what she said, word for word, and yet that the same time I was outside myself, watching as detached as the court reporter would be. It’s wasn’t disinterest (I was quite interested), nor apathy. It was removing my mind from attachment, to just be in the moment, to allow the sunlight of the spirit to place-hold myself, to be free of thoughts either way. To allow the ribbon to unfold as it would.
And as the ribbon unspooled, the judge stopped for a moment, and asked me to rise. And I did.
A few days ago, my wife and I were in the car. My wife, of course, was driving. We were passing some trees alongside the highway, and we had a vista of the nearby bridge overlooking the Don River. The bridge was covered with a sort of wire cage. It’s called the Luminous Veil, and it’s not so much an artistic piece (it is, in a way) as it is a suicide prevention instillation. Many have decided to sadly end their lives on that bridge, which is located only minutes from my house. Even during construction of the Luminous Veil, there are tales of men and women jumping while the construction workers did their thing. I have even seen someone attempt suicide there with the wires in place. Determination in the darkest places. We’ll fight through anything when it comes to oblivion. And I could relate, because there were times I would crawl over broken glass to get the relief that a bottle would give me. There are countless stories of what people did to get their next fix, their next high, their next buzz, or to do whatever it took to keep up a lie. And I certainly have mine.
I told my wife that I was going to give her the phone number of my boss at work, just in case. You know, just in case. I couldn’t find his business card in my wallet, so I would get it later. There was silence in the car for a while and then my wife told me that I had really thrown her off by saying what I did. Up until then, we had the unwritten, unspoken pact of staying positive, of not even going to that place of the what if. And I had broken it in a footloose moment of practicality.
“You don’t realize the impact you have on others in what you say,” she said, momentarily upset.
I apologized, and realized she was right. I was so used to living a life where I thought I didn’t matter. Where my words were meaningless, because my life had felt like that. That my spirit was always crushed and what did it matter what a promise was, or being accountable? What did it matter what came out of my mouth or not? Like those people who looked over at the lush foliage surrounding the Don River before they plunged from the bridge, I felt so often that my existence held no significance to me and those in my life.
As my wife once told me early in my recovery, that during my old ways, I robbed people of me. I robbed people of the experience of me, because I was so self-absorbed and self-loathing. And I realized that she was right then, and right in that car. My words do have meaning, because I have meaning. Not in an egotistical manner. But in a human manner. Of relationship with those around me.
I put my wallet away and didn’t think about work anymore.
Hefty fines. Parole for 18 months. Courses and other alcohol-related treatments to attend and comply with.
I could easily say that I was doing cartwheels inside, but I wasn’t. It was still what it was, as I let myself be that day, and this was just something. Don’t get me wrong, I was relieved beyond measure. My wife and I didn’t have to explain to my children why their Papi wasn’t around on weekends. I didn’t have to upset my work schedule. I didn’t have to make additional plans with others for child care. Papi would be home.
There were the grim reminders that my actions needed reaction, and while I didn’t have to sit in a cell, there were some big consequences. I was told also that there could be an appeal by the prosecution. They need 30 days. I will count down quietly. And as we convened outside the courtroom, with hugs and kisses, handshakes and restrained smiles, I felt a great weight off my shoulders. I looked around and wondered how long the weight would go on for some of the other people there. I recognized the same dejected and surprised faces that I once had. I saw in others the feeling that things would never get better.
My parents, wife and our friend M left, leaving me with my sponsor. The lawyer’s rep left soon after. J and I talked about computers, as he is getting one for the first time. I told him that if he ever needed help with it, to call me. He promised me he would. And then he and I parted ways too. I was left there, in my cheap suit, alone, left with the same rush of people to and fro that greeted me that same morning. It was now noon. What would I do now? The boys need dinner, so I would start on that. I also have some calls to make.
Life goes on.
One thing that resonated with me after the computer talk with J was how often the judge mentioned this blog. She mentioned it by name, mentioned how we all reach each other, how we support one another. And the letters. All of your letters. It dawned on me that my life is now protected by a Luminous Veil. The Creator, my family, people here, other alcoholics, the program of recovery. I never need be alone. Ever. If I am ever alone, it’s because I put myself there. Ego and pride separating me from life and those who live it.
Thank you once again for all that you have done. All of you. Anyone that has crossed my path in this journey, those in my family, those in my new family, those who are still suffering. Thanks to the Creator.